PONTEFRACT (pronounced and sometimes written " Pomfret "), a market town and municipal and parliamentary borough in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, 21 m. S.S.W. from York, served by the Midland, North-Eastern and Lancashire & Yorkshire railways. Pop. (1891), 9702; (1901), 13,427. It is well situated, mainly on an eminence, near the junction of the Aire and the Calder. The most important of the antiquarian remains are the ruins of the famous castle situated on a rocky height, originally covering with its precincts an area of over 8 acres, and containing in all eight round towers. The remains are principally of Norman date, and an unusual feature of the stronghold is the existence of various subterranean chambers in the rock. Below the castle is All Saints church, which suffered severely during the siege of the castle, but still retains some work of the 12th century. In 1837 the tower and transepts were fitted for divine service. The church of St Giles, formerly a chapel of ease to All Saints, but made parochial in the 18th century, is of Norman date, but most of the present structure is modern. The 17th-century spire was removed in 1707, and replaced by a square tower, which was rebuilt in 1797; the chancel was rebuilt in 1869. In Southgate is an ancient hermitage and oratory cut out of the solid rock, which dates from 1396. On St Thomas's Hill, where Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was beheaded in 1322, a chantry was erected in 1373, the site of which is now occupied by a windmill built of its stones. At Monkhill there are the remains of a Tudor building called the Old Hall, probably constructed out of the old priory of St John's. A grammar school of ancient foundation, renewed by Elizabeth and George III., occupies modern buildings. The town-hall was built at the close of the 18th century on the site of one erected in 1656, which succeeded the old moot-hall dating from Saxon times. Among other buildings are the court house, the market hall, the assembly rooms (a handsome building adjoining the town-hall), and large barracks. The foundation of the principal almshouse, that of St Nicholas, dates from before the Conquest. Trinity Hospital was founded by Sir Robert Knolles (d. 1407), an eminent military commander in the French wars of Edward III. At Ackworth, in the neighbourhood, there is a large school of the Society of Friends or Quakers (1778), in the foundation of which Dr John Fothergill (1712-1780) was a prime mover. There are extensive gardens and nurseries in the neighbourhood of Pontefract, and liquorice is largely grown for the manufacture of the celebrated Pomfret cakes. The town possesses ironfoundries, sack and matting manufactories, tanneries, breweries, corn mills and brick and terra-cotta works. The parliamentary borough, falling within the Osgoldcross division of the county, returns one member (before 1885 the number was two). The town is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and 1 8 councillors. Area, 4078 acres.
The remains of a Roman camp have been discovered near Pontefract, but there is no trace of settlement in the town itself until after the Conquest. At the time of the Domesday Survey Tateshall (now Tanshelf, a suburb of the town) was the chief manor and contained 60 burgesses, while Kirkby, which afterwards became the borough of Pontefract, was one of its members. The change was probably owing to the fact that Ilbert de Lacy, to whom the Conqueror had granted the whole of the honour of Pontefract, founded a castle at Kirkby, on a site said to have been occupied by a fortification raised by Ailric, a Saxon thane. Several reasons are given for the change of name but none is at all satisfactory. One account -says that it was caused by a broken bridge which delayed the Conqueror's advance to the north, but this is known to have been at Ferrybridge, three miles away; a second says that the new name was derived from a Norman town called Pontfrete, which, however, never existed; and a third that it was caused by the breaking of a bridge in 1153 on the arrival of the archbishop of York, St William, when several people were miraculously preserved from drowning, although the town was already known as Pontefract in 1 140 when Archbishop Thurstan died there. The manor remained in the Lacy family until it passed by marriage to Thomas, duke of Lancaster, who was beheaded on a hill outside the town after the battle of Boroughbridge. His estates were restored to his brother Henry, earl of Lancaster, on the accession of Edward III., and the manor has since then formed part of the duchy of Lancaster. The town took part in most of the rebellions in the north of England, and in 1399 Richard II. was imprisoned and secretly murdered in the castle. During the Wars of the Roses the town was loyal to Henry VI., and several of the Yorkist leaders were executed here after the battle of Wakefield. It was taken by Robert Aske, leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, in 1536. In 1642 the castle was garrisoned for Charles I. and sustained four sieges, the second, in 1644, being successful, but two years later it was retaken by the royalists, who held it until after the execution of the king, when they surrendered to General Lambert and the castle was destroyed.
Roger de Lacy in 1194 granted a charter to the burgesses confirming their liberties and right to be a free borough at a fee-farm of i2d. yearly for every toft, granting them the same privileges as the burgesses of Grimsby, and that their reeve should be chosen annually by the lord of the manor at his court leet, preference being given to the burgesses if they would pay as much as others for the office. Henry de Lacy cofirmed this charter in 1278 and in 1484 Richard III. incorporated the town under the title of mayor and burgesses and granted a gild merchant with a hanse. His charter was withdrawn on the accession of Henry VII. and a similar one was granted, while in 1489 the king gave the burgesses licence to continue choosing a mayor as they had done in the time of Richard III. In 1606-1607 James I. confirmed the charter of Henry VII. and regulated the choice of the mayor by providing that he should be elected from among the chief burgesses by the burgesses themselves. The privilege of returning two members to parliament which had belonged to Pontefract at the end of the 13th century was revived in i62o-i62r on the grounds that the charter of 1606-1607 had restored all their privileges to the burgesses. Since the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885 one member only has been returned. Liquorice was largely grown as early as 1700-1701, when the corporation prohibited the sale of buds or sets of the plant. Richard III. by his incorporation charter granted the market rights in the borough to the burgesses, who still hold them under his charter.
See Victoria County History : Yorkshire ; Eighth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1870 1897); Book of Entries of the Pontefract Corporation, 1653-1726 (ed. by Richard Holmes, 1882); Benjamin Boothroyd, The History of the Ancient Borough of Pontefract (1807); George Fox, The History of Pontefract (1827).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)